The world in 430 BC according to Herodotus

This map was not actually created by Herodotus himself – it was put together from the description of the world given in his historical masterpiece The HistoriesThe area encompasses the Mediterranean Sea, west to present-day Spain, north to the southern half of Europe, east to India, and south to the Sahara Desert. The map, as well as Herodotus’s book, have several glaring inaccuracies, including the Nile jutting west almost all the way across the Sahara Desert, Africa terminating just south of that same desert, and how he seems to refer to all people with dark skin as “Ethiopians.”

I love seeing how people thought of the world at different periods of time. 430BC is just about the time that humans really started to inquire philosophically and record their thoughts, and it’s interesting that the entire world to even the most scholarly intellectual at the time is only now just a small fraction of our world. People of the time would likely have been amazed had they known that there were several continents in every direction, that the planet had polar ice caps, and that the earth was roughly a sphere. Or how about that there are planets other than our own? Or the vastness of our universe?

On that point, will our maps be quite as unsophisticated to humans 2,500 years from now (assuming there are any)? Will our picture of the universe pale in comparison to theirs? I certainly think so – I imagine that our current “map” of the universe is far, far more incomplete than Herodotus’s map of the world in 430 BC.

Image via Age of the Sage.


Professor Orlando Furgeson’s 1893 argument for a “square and stationary earth”

I find it interesting that the belief that the world is anything besides round persisted well into the 19th century. The map above was drawn by Professor Orlando Furgeson and published in 1893 – he claims that scripture backs up the “square and stationary earth” and refutes the idea of a moving, spheroid earth. He cites many passages from the Bible on the map itself, including “it is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” as proof that points to a non-globular planet.

If the word of the Bible is not proof enough, he also claims that a planet moving 65,000 miles per hour around the sun would surely fling its inhabits out into the darkest reaches of space.

Even though the theory is not substantiated, I still think it’s interesting that Furgeson decided to go with a sort of wavy-flat earth rather than a completely flat one. I can’t fathom how his map would account for seasons, day length, or the lack of a horizon in the southern hemisphere. And how does gravity come into play? Wouldn’t the slope cause all the world’s water to pool in the southern hemisphere?

The bottom right corner states that if one were to send 25 cents to the professor, he or she would receive a book explaining the square and stationary earth. There doesn’t seem to be any existing copies of the book, so his theory is lost to the ages. It certainly would have been an interesting read!

Image from Wikipedia.

Philosophy of urban planning

After writing my last post about the history of urban planning, I wanted to learn more about Hippodamus of Miletus, the “father” of urban planning. He lived from 498 to 408 BC, and he helped design such Greek towns as Piraeus, Olynthus, Priene, and Miletus. Urban planning at this time was not at all an established discipline, and it wasn’t until Hippodamus came around that even the idea of a city grid was commonplace.

In Hippodamus’ time, urban planning would have been more properly identified as “the philosophy of urban spacing.” It took deep philosophical and rational thought to come to a theory of the best way to plan a town, and it wasn’t immediately obvious that a grid would be a highly effective format.

Aristotle himself was a critic of Hippodamus’ idea of straight streets and a gridded layout. He argued that, while a town planned in a grid is certainly more visually appealing than a haphazardly planned urban area, the latter is better for deterring invaders. If a city is infiltrated, the trespassers would easily be able to navigate through the streets if they are planned out in an orderly way. However, poorly planned streets are much easier to get lost in, and intruders not familiar with the city would be at a loss in such a place. Basically, orderly planning is good for beauty, haphazard planning (or lack thereof) is better for security. Here it is in Aristotle’s own words:

“The arrangement of private houses is generally considered to be more sightly, and more convenient for peacetime activities, when it is regularly planned in the modern style introduced by Hippodamus. For reasons of military security, however, the very reverse is preferable — they should follow the old-fashioned manner, which made it difficult for strangers to make their way out and for assailants to find their way in.” Politics, 1330b17

Aristotle’s Politics goes on to say a lot about the planning style of Hippodamus and about Hippodamus himself, stating that he was “the first man without practical experience of politics who attempted to handle the theme of the best form of constitution” (Politics, 1267b22). The question of the best form of government was a hot topic of philosophy at the time and I think it’s interesting that Hippodamus was cited as the first non-political person to theorize on the subject.

Even though Aristotle states that beauty is the main advantage of orderly town planning, Hippodamus’ grid system was actually developed with practical implications in mind. The town of Miletus and many other Greek cities were planned so as to make elements of the weather less harsh. In Miletus, the buildings and streets were arranged so that the wind from the sea would flow optimally through the town, providing a cool breeze on hot summer days. In addition, other Greek towns were planned so that houses and other buildings would obscure the sun during the summer and face the sun during the winter in order to receive as much sunlight as possible.

As a lover (and degree-holder) of political theory, I think it’s incredibly interesting that even disciplines such as city planning came from philosophic roots. However, radical change does require a radical change in thought, and there were bound to be dissenters when Hippodamus introduced his idea of a gridded town system. The idea has obviously held strong through the two-and-a-half millenia since its inception, and it didn’t take long at all for the idea to stick. Many ancient writers such as Strabo, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Theano of Thurii, and Vitruvius wrote about city planning in either an informative or critical way. Dinocrates of Rhodes helped plan Alexander the Great’s city of Alexandria in the 4th century BC, and it followed a grid pattern, as captured by the 1899 work of André Castaigne, below.

All info and images via and Wikipedia.

Milestones in urban planning

Urban planning has undoubtedly evolved rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century. The Atlantic Cities wrote an article detailing the latest exhibit put on by SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) called “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning” which presents vital changes in urban planning through the use of 10 important diagrams.

The image above is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” a proposed urban development designed to give each landowner one acre of property on a 36 square mile parcel of land. The idea was first made public in 1932 during the rise of America’s shift towards suburbanization and sprawl. Wright’s idea would only have furthered the suburban problem that is currently being beaten down by the new-age urbanism of shared spaces and tight-knit communities in urban centers. As Broadacre City spaces neighbors out and focuses on land rather than community, an America modeled after this vision would leave citizens distant and isolated.

Hippodamus of Miletus of the 5th century BC is often regarded as the “father” of urban planning. From his wikipedia:

His plans of Greek cities were characterised by order and regularity in contrast to the more intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period, even Athens. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.

One can say that urban planning started with Hippodamus of Miletus, as he introduced orderly city planning which was the first to be truly planned. However, the SPUR exhibition begins its history of modern urban planning with Ebenezer Howard‘s garden city of 1903, seen below.

Ebenezer Howard designed the garden city at the turn of the 20th century in order to combat the polluted and overcrowded cities that made up a large part of urban life in his day. The idea was to have a 12,000 acre city with a population of 58,000 in the center with several smaller cities of 9,000 acres and populations of 32,000 connected by canals to the center city. Spreading everything out would reduce pollution and the entire “garden city” would be roughly 66,000 acres with a population of 250,000. The idea was adopted in the planning of two English towns, Letchworth and Welwyn, but neither worked quite as ideally as Howard’s plan, and both contributed to the problem of urban sprawl characterized by the first half of the 20th century.

This is an interesting concept introduced in New York City’s 1916 zoning laws. It basically says that skyscrapers in New York City must taper off as they get taller as to maximize the amount of sunlight the streets below receive. It’s a clever idea that more cities really should implement. Not only does it make the streets of NYC brighter and more lively, but it also results in what I consider to be a beautiful skyline as seen below.

The exhibition closes with the idea that planners are moving more towards environmental planning due to the ever-increasing global temperature. The focus of planning has shifted and planners are now more conscious of the environment and it can be seen in their work. The environment is a priority whereas it was hardly considered during the first part of the 20th century.

SPUR’s exhibition is open until February 28th, 2013 and is held at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery in San Francisco. It’s free so check it out!

All images and info via The Atlantic Cities and Wikipedia

Leo Belgicus: 16th and 17th century mapmakers drew the Low Countries as a lion

The Low Countries – or the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of northern France – were often displayed in the form of a lion on 16th and 17th century maps. The “Belgian” lion was often displayed in homes as a symbol of Dutch patriotism. Strangely, it followed one of the two iterations shown above – it either had a normal orientation as it is in the upper image (north at the top, Netherlands as the head, the spine following the coast of Belgium), or it was rotated at is in the lower image (west at the top, Netherlands being at the rear of the lion, and Belgium and the modern French department of Nord-Pas-de-Calais at the lion’s head). I made two maps in arcGIS to give a better idea of what these maps show.

This map displays the same area shown in the uppermost Leo Belgicus, with north as it truly is. The shape of a lion’s head, face, back, and chest is easily discernible. However, this lion shape only covers roughly from the shoulder up. The shape below covers more of the area of a lion.

This map is a rotated view of the Low Countries, with the shape of the lion in the lower image of Leo Belgicus above. This design is also a convincing lion-like shape, as it encompasses more of the body and only cuts off the legs and the face.

Now my question is, was the rotated design considered that much more lion-like that artists like Jodocus Hondius would rather sacrifice proper orientation in favor of a nice design? Hondius’ rotated design, created in 1611, came 28 years after the original design of Leo Belgicus by Michael Eytzinger in 1583. Nearly every subsequent incarnation of Leo Belgicus would be properly oriented as well, including those in 1609, 1617, 1648, 1650, and 1707.

Either way, it’s pretty cool how pride can be put into the design of a map.

Info from wikipedia and world digital library.

Antiquity À-la-carte uses GIS to display roads used in ancient times

The Ancient World Mapping Center over at the University of North Carolina has made an awesome application with GIS interface that combines my love of maps, history, and transportation. You can look at different geographical features from various eras of history, from Archaic Greece to Late Antiquity. Among the features are cities, temples, roads, aqueducts, and urban areas, among others.

Pictured above is Ancient Rome and the roads leading out of it, which I find fascinating. I think it’s amazing to see the roads that were used by the ancients to travel and transport goods and to see how Romans navigated through the mountains to get where they needed to go. The map is incredibly detailed and has roads that stretch throughout the extent of the Roman empire, as well as roads used during other eras.

Here’s Rome and the whole of modern Italy at 1:3120000. It’s incredible to see the roads used throughout the peninsula. This can be done anywhere in the world. Finally, below is the whole of Europe. I’m just blown away that we have the ability to visualize roads used 2000 years ago! I’m going to be playing with this website for a long time.

The application: Antiquity À-la-carte

The London Tube turns 150

Here’s an interesting article from The Atlantic Cities about the history of London’s Tube map. The Tube celebrated its 150th birthday on January 9th, and its map has gone through at least 12 iterations since it opened its doors to the public in 1863. The map’s original design was a confusing set of meandering lines, and it wasn’t until 1933 that Harry Beck‘s modern map layout was adopted.




Speaking of Tube maps, Animals on the Underground is worth a look. Paul Middlewick takes the Tube’s map and highlights animals found within the tangle of colored railways. My personal favorites are Hornchurch the rhino and White Chapel the polar bear.


White Chapel: